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Physician Portals Fill the Gap

By Charles Firneno

March 14, 2006 | Physician portals, once low-value Web sites used as bulletin boards by medical societies or for back-door e-detailing by marketers, are now positioned to become a vital link in the national health information value chain. The convergence of two trends — the growing patient and physician comfort with accessing health information via the Web and the development of physician/patient online exchanges — have created an opportunity for physician portals to connect patient information with physician practice patterns. Integrated physician/patient data can dramatically increase the information value added by providers, payors, and manufacturers.

Like most of the jargon used to describe health information, the term “physician portal” means different things to different people. The earliest and most common physician portals simply aggregate links to other Web sites that physicians might find useful or interesting. Many professional associations such as the American Medical Association or the American College of Cardiology added content useful to members such as professional guidelines, continuing medical education (CME), and practice management information to create the typical “portal” functionality that most sponsors and end users think of when they hear the term. Other functionalities are also associated with portals such as the e-detailing content found on Medsite or medical information such as is found on WebMD. Practice services such as decision support, e-prescribing, and ASP electronic medical records (EMRs) are also being introduced through physician-targeting portals. Finally, mobile devices such as Proscape’s PC tablet, or Epocrates’ PDR/PDA, and even advanced cell-phone and BlackBerry-type devices that port content to doctors are now also thought of as portals.

Physician portals have long been of keen interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers for obvious reasons. Portals have been used by pharma companies to communicate with doctors through a variety of activities that include market and marketing research, sponsored CME, and e-detailing. MedPanel is an example of a pure market and marketing research portal that attracts physicians through sponsor-supported honoraria. Because they are compensated portals, such sites are characterized by both high physician retention rates and very narrowly defined target audiences. IntrinsiQ Research is an example of a therapeutically focused market research portal that adds value to oncologists by providing IntelliDose, a dosing application that claims to “automate chemotherapy order writing and safeguards against dosing error.” Medscape has focused mostly on CME and related sponsored activities.

Enter the Patient
Although WebMD has had some success as a physician/patient nexus, many physicians have not embraced the portal’s one-size-fits-all format as a resource for patient information. Many independent practitioners have developed their own portals with varying functionalities to meet their needs. HealthBanks is a physician/patient portal that allows each practitioner to customize and “brand” the HealthBanks portal on both the patient-facing and physician dashboard sides of the Web site. HealthBanks allows pharmaceutical sponsors to add content to the physician “dashboard” section of its portals. HealthBanks is also designing additional products and services to add to their current offerings.

Although seemingly narrow in purpose, portals that aim to link pharmaceutical companies with doctors become broadly useful when patients are added to their functionalities. Like patient registries, physician portals that offer ASP patient opt-in programs, e-prescribing, or ASP practice management and EMRs possess geometrically greater value to all participants in the health information value chain. Understanding the relationship between real-world medical decisions and their economic and health consequences is the goal of the federal National Health Information Network initiative.

Multifunctional physician/patient portals can provide insight into value and product performance issues. Such insight can be combined with medical claims and pharmacy data as well as with blinded safety data to provide an organic view of product performance. Integrated, real-world information on the true value of therapeutic and diagnostic interventions will be a minimum requirement to health-sector stakeholders.

Charles Firneno is a research manager at Life Science Insights. E-mail:

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